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Pam Frampton: Andrew Abbass — a life in limbo

Andrew Abbass is shown outside Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook, 2015. — Western Star file photo
Andrew Abbass is shown outside Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook, 2015. — Western Star file photo

“The courts must always be there for the vindication of the citizen with what he or she views as the wrongful exercise of authority.”
Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal decision, April 2017

 

It’s been 922 days since Andrew Abbass was picked up at his home and taken by police to Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook for a six-day involuntary stay under the auspices of the Mental Health Care and Treatment Act (MHCTA).

It’s been six months since the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal acknowledged that Abbass should have been allowed to argue in court at the time of his detainment that he was being held unlawfully; in other words, that he should have been granted a habeas corpus hearing.

It’s been three months since he was finally granted that hearing and Justice Brian F. Furey heard the case, but the judge still hasn’t rendered his decision.

And so Abbass lives with the taint of that involuntary detainment clinging to him like a shadow; it has infiltrated every aspect of his life.

Of course, he can never get those six days of lost liberty back — six days during which he says he never received a thorough psychiatric assessment until well after he was admitted, was never diagnosed with a mental illness, was given no medication apart from a nicotine patch, and was not presented with any documentation from the police justifying his apprehension in the first place.

 

Related columns:

Pam Frampton: Andrew Abbass and the right to dissent http://www.thetelegram.com/opinion/columnists/pam-frampton-andrew-abbass-and-the-right-to-dissent-135910/

Pam Frampton: No diagnosis, no jusitification http://www.thetelegram.com/opinion/columnists/pam-frampton-no-diagnosis-no-justification-135902/

Pam Frampton: Symptomatic of a huge problemhttp://www.thetelegram.com/opinion/columnists/pam-frampton-symptomatic-of-a-huge-problem-135897/

Pam Frampton: Abbass case shining light in dark corners http://www.thetelegram.com/opinion/columnists/pam-frampton-abbass-case-shining-light-in-dark-corners-135894/

 

It all started with some edgy and emotion-charged tweets on social media. Abbass had been expressing his shock and anger at hearing that Donald Dunphy had been shot to death by a Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officer at his home in Mitchell’s Brook after sending his own impassioned tweets criticizing unfeeling politicians and a system that he felt had let him down as an injured worker.
“I think, in the aftermath of Mr. Dunphy’s shooting, I was one of the first people to speak up and question, and to say, ‘This stinks!’” Abbass told me in a May 2017 interview. “The police, the government, were uncomfortable with what I was saying.”

Abbass said when he asked one of the police officers who showed up at his door on that day in April 2015 why he was being hospitalized against his will, the officer said, “Look, I’m just doing my job.”

Abbass said he recalls thinking there were probably Nazi guards rounding up Jews and other vulnerable people during the Second World War who said the same.

And so Abbass lives with the taint of that involuntary detainment clinging to him like a shadow; it has infiltrated every aspect of his life.

He had hoped to have had a ruling in his habeas corpus hearing by now — with a decision in his favour — so that he could start trying to undo the impact the detainment has had on his life.

“There’s still a paper trail out there,” he says. ‘That’s not expunged in a day. I’m still in legal limbo, two-and-a-half years later.”

Abbass’s involuntary hospital stay has left him stigmatized, and has affected every aspect of his life — work, home, family, finances.

“There’s been a lot of stress and strain,” says the quiet-spoken, articulate 36-year-old, who had previously worked in the field of electronics engineering technology.

He’s living in Happy Valley-Goose Bay now, working as a computer technician and living paycheque to paycheque, trying to pay down his bills and raise his two-year-old boy.

“I’m just trying to work as much as I can and take care of my son. That’s as far as I can look right now,” he said.

“It’s disturbing that this happened to me. I should’ve had a hearing from the get-go. … I think the system’s become a little detached. There’s a difference between doing your job and ticking off boxes; these just aren’t boxes you’re ticking off. There’s a person in that box.”

Abbass said citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador should be concerned about the amount of power that can be wielded and potentially abused under mental health care legislation.

“You’re just giving them bigger and bigger hammers with the law,” he says, “and if everyone’s a nail, then a lot more people are going to get smacked down.”

 

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

 

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